The God Who is There (Francis Schaeffer)

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by BayouHuguenot, Jun 9, 2018.

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  1. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I first read this book in 2002 and it was the primer that got me into apologetics and philosophy. From Schaeffer I moved to James Sire; from Sire to Douglas Groothuis, and from Groothuis to Cornelius Van Til. The book is quite exciting for the reader actually believes he will take these arguments and reclaim culture for Christ. Schaeffer offers a stirring vision on how the loss of God affects every area of life.

    Unfortunately, the devil is in the details. Schaeffer fundamentally misrepresents every philosopher and group with whom he deals. There is no intellectual rigor whatsoever.

    Schaeffer sees himself broadly within the tradition of Cornelius Van Til, but he is a watered down version of Van Til. For all of Van Til's problems, Van Til knew if you were going to press the antithesis, you were going to press it in the right place. Schaeffer fails that because he thinks "The Greeks were okay who got reason right. It was Hegel who messed it up and introduced irrationality."

    Thesis: In giving up the hope of rationality, a rationality that is founded only in the revelation of God in Christ, man is plunged below the line of despair. This line of despair normally moves in the following historical pattern: philosophy → art → music → general culture → theology (Schaeffer 16). Above the line there is absolutes (whether they are sufficiently justified).

    The Positive Case for Christian Theism

    God is personal and in creating man in his own image, man is personal (87). Schaeffer proves this in the form of a disjunctive syllogism (A v B; ~B; therefore, A). “Either there is sa personal beginning to everything or one has what the impersonal throws up by chance out of the time sequence” (88).

    God placed his revelation in history, and in doing so made it verifiable (92). God’s speaking in history is what makes unity possible between the upper and lower storeys, because God spoke to all areas.

    The Nature of Proof (Epistemology)
    (1) A theory must be non-contradictory and explain the phenomena in question.
    (2) We have to be able to live consistently with our theory (109).

    The Good Parts

    It’s not hard to see why Schaeffer had the influence he did. The book was just “fun” to read. And he saw the current problems on transgenderism, transhumanism, and Cultural Marxism. His zeal for evangelism is contagious and he knew how important communication was (45).

    While Schaeffer fundamentally misreads Hegel, he does get the dialectical methodology of Marx correct (46). While he doesn’t draw the specific connection, we now see that dialectical methodology is a tool the New Left uses today (and which most conservative culture warriors are unable to deal with).

    He has some very good analyses of art history.

    The Bad

    Schaeffer had a tendency to make sweeping surveys on philosophy. Sometimes they were misleading. Other times they were just false. His most notorious example is Hegel, and here I can only summarize Greg Bahnsen’s critique of Schaeffer.

    Schaeffer writes, “Before his (Hegel's) time truth was conceived on the basis of antithesis.... Truth, in the sense of antithesis, is related to the idea of cause and effect. Cause and effect produces a chain reaction which goes on in a horizontal line. With the coming of Hegel, all this changed.... (Hegel proposed) from now on let us think in this way; instead of thinking in terms of cause and effect, what we really have is a thesis, and opposite is an antithesis, and the answer to their relationship is not in the horizontal movement of cause and effect, but the answer is always synthesis.... (Thus) instead of antithesis we have, as modern man's approach to truth, synthesis”.

    Hegel never denigrated logic. He simply pointed out that the antithesis must always arise from the thesis because of man’s finite take on truth. Further, one can only be astonished at Schaeffer’s claim that the Greeks valued truth and the logical antithesis. Plato and Aristotle might have, but one doubts that Heraclitus or the Sophists did. Indeed, Schaeffer’s misconstrual of Hegel in favor of the Greeks seems to let the Greeks off the hook!

    This book is rightly considered a 20th century classic. Despite its intellectual gaffes, it did get evangelicals thinking about worldview issues. Schaeffer was key in rallying evangelicals to the pro-life cause. For that we are grateful. But the apologist cannot stop with Schaeffer. Metaphysics and epistemology, which Schaeffer left undeveloped, have advanced light years.
  2. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    I have read two of his books, the one being this one you mentioned, and also How Then Should We Live?
  3. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Senior

    When Schaeffer was right, he was really right, and ahead of his time in many ways. Unfortunately, when he was wrong, he was really wrong. Schaeffer sought to be a renaissance man in the sense of being knowledgeable about a vast range of subjects. Perhaps his lapses in analysis were the result of his being a jack of all trades and a master of none. Regardless, I think he is worth reading because the parts he is right about are things modern Christians need to know.
  4. ZackF

    ZackF Puritan Board Senior

    It's interesting you bring up Hegel. Aquinas is usually the figure people flog Schaeffer for mishandling. ;)

    This isn't to excuse error but to explain it. Schaeffer was first an evangelist. He certainly got the Gospel itself correct. On historical/philosophical/cultural matters he painted with broad brush strokes and therefore got paint where he shouldn't have and missed points on the canvas that required a smaller brush tip. At L'abri I'm sure he felt he needed to speak to all kinds of stuff as he was taking various questions from all sorts of folk. It would be an easy temptation to oversimplify and speak beyond one's knowledge.
  5. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I am all for flogging Thomas Aquinas.

    I've actually read Hegel's Phenomenology. It is an awful book (not only content, but prose). But I also know what Hegel was saying

    In any case, I am reading He is THere and He is not Silent and it is much, much better.
  6. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Senior

    I consider Aquinas to be a sort of medieval William Lane Craig: good philosopher, terrible theologian.
  7. ZackF

    ZackF Puritan Board Senior

    Right. LOL. I find your take on philosophy and apologetics fascinating because you don't fall easily one way, Aquinas or Van Til.
  8. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    The most important advice I can give on apologetics is to not get tied down into any single ideology. Getting all worked up into one specific apologetics camp is equivalent to sucking on a gas hose. Here is my own take:

    1) I came via Van Til and Bahnsen. I am no longer in that school because I think the TAG is a dead-end. When I was a militant Hegelian, I did find Van Til insightful on some points.

    2) I like Gordon Clark. I think the Trinity Foundation's rhetoric ruined his reputaiton for a while, but I think it is on the upswing.

    3) I like Carl Henry's philosophical theology. I was sympathetic to his cultural vision but that has largely been neutered by his neo-evangelical disciples today.
  9. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    Especially on his understanding of foreknowledge, sin, and predestination.
  10. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    I did not read Dr Schaffer in order to learn philosophy, but more as how to have the practical aspects of truth of scriptures worked into our lives, and those in the general culture.
  11. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Aquinas is actually very strong on predestination and foreknowledge.
  12. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    Sorry, I meant the views expressed by Dr Craig.
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